Multifaceted Me Series: Maestra
As a kid, I would gather my cousins as my students and administer tests I spent hours creating before they arrived to “play.” I would take attendance, teach a concept, write on the chalkboard, and even grade their assignments with the all-powerful red pen. While there was a short “rebellious” period during college where I convinced myself I didn’t want to just follow in my mom’s footsteps, I’ve always known I was born to be in the classroom.
Importance of Quality, Effective Mentorship
Thanks to Kate the Great’s unparalleled mentorship, I did not have the proverbial atrocious first year of teaching. As I mentioned in the second part of this series (“married”), my wedding was in July and I began teaching in August. The beginning of my career plus the beginning of my lifelong commitment as a wife did not necessarily equal bliss. In an indirect way, Kate may have saved the Decker marriage by lightening my load so much!
I never missed a deadline, and I always submitted professional documents with absolute excellence. While I certainly carried my own charisma and energy, Kate guided me to confidently and gracefully handle parent phone calls, meetings, emails, and the myriad professional duties they don’t teach in “teacher school.” To this day, even in different districts, she continues to be my sounding board, encourager, and coach.
Embracing Teenage Turbulence
Everybody knows, and all the research shows, that the rational part of a teenager’s brain is not fully developed (and won’t be until about 25 years old). It’s usually a mystery to me when teachers complain about teenagers acting like… well, teenagers. For all the wonderful and amazing lessons Kate taught me, I am most thankful for how she modeled embracing teenage turbulence.
My goal each minute of each day is the same: disarm the resistance. Sounds like battle, huh? It can sometimes feel like it.
Every eye roll, every snide remark, every scoff has to be welcomed by the adult in the room. It starts with small acts, and I learned quickly that the ability to embrace tumultuous behavior starts with having strong self-esteem. The fact I love most about teenagers is that they are a true reflection of humanity: capable of incredible cruelty while simultaneously being capable of incredible benevolence.
Thriving as a Reading Community
In retrospect, I did not yet thrive as a reader and writer that first year. Unfortunately, I scorned students for not having an admirable reading life, but soon realized I was doing nothing to encourage their reading identities. It finally occurred to me that I grew up in a household where being a reader was organically developed; therefore, I was not explicitly taught to embrace or cultivate my reader identity.
Ah… I had to show my students how to form this identity?! That year, I committed to researching every facet of cultivating young adult reading identities. The summer after my first year I consumed over 50 Young Adult novels with the intent of curating my own classroom library, as well as being able to recommend books to my classroom readers.
Each year after that I have attempted to focus on a couple of teacher moves I can make to ensure I can get the most amount of kids to not hate reading. I’m not completely naive; I know it is near impossible to make all my students love reading, but to hate it less is a pretty tall order. Have you met teenagers??
We teachers have standards to cover and canned district expectations, but my favorite thing every single year in every single class is the relationships we build around reading. Watching students scoff and fight the reading expectation at the beginning of the year to then shouting, “NO! Just five more minutes I can’t stop right now your lesson can wait I’m sorry but-” all in one breathe is the most satisfying part of getting to be a teacher.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my limited experience is that I must never stop learning. For example, I have recently recognized that this same reading culture fervor must be applied to students’ writing lives, and I’m currently on that path as I work to establish my own writing identity.
As the world limps through this pandemic, teachers will be ready in August to embrace and inspire students no matter what.